Monday, December 29, 2014

A Christmas Weekend


    Are you willing to believe that love is the strongest thing in the world - stronger than hate, stronger than evil, stronger than death - and that the blessed life which began in Bethlehem two thousand years ago is the image and brightness of the Eternal Love?  Then you can keep Christmas.     ...Augusta E. Rundel

There's nothing quite like Christmas. Excited kids. A flurry of gift wrap flying that takes thirty minutes to undo hours of shopping and wrapping. Kids always think the packages are going to reveal more fun than they do. I remember how there is just something magical about a wrapped gift with your name on it. When you're a kid, it can be anything. Anything at all before you tear off the wrapping paper and pull open the box. My daughter got a huge wrapped box and one of my grandsons was so excited to help her open it up. You could see his visible let-down when it held nothing more exciting than a sewing machine cover. To him, it was a total waste of gift anticipation. He was so sure the mere size of the package promised something wonderful. 

But the best part of most gifts we receive is the love that is behind whatever is in the box. Somebody loved us enough to want to give us something to make us happy. No matter how successful the actual physical gift may or may not turn out to be, the feelings behind the gift can warm our hearts and make us glad. Well, maybe you have to be older than my six-year-old grandson to get that feeling. :)

My other little grandson was not feeling well. He didn't have much fun and ended up having to take  medicine and sacking out on the bed with his big sister. She was ready to sit with him and nap with him to make sure he was okay. The boys are so blessed to have a loving big sister. 
I am blessed by those wonderful grandchildren and my kids too, but also by my extended family too. My sister-in-law allows us to gather at her house and enjoy an extra day of Christmas. It's a fill up your plate and find a seat wherever you can. Of course, if you eat standing up, you can usually manage that extra piece of lemon meringue pie or peanut butter fudge. We do one of those gift exchanges. That's always fun. I ended up with flashlights and my husband ended up with a teacup and teabags. Not exactly his kind of gift, but I like tea!

I missed having a get-together with my side of the family. This was our first year without Mom and Christmas Eve seemed to lack an important family event - seeing Mom. But think what the celebration must be like in heaven. We can only imagine, but Mom can know.

Did have have an extended family celebration this year?

Thursday, December 25, 2014

A Special E-Book Deal for Christmas

Merry Christmas, everybody!! This is one of the cute Christmas cards I got this year and so I'm sharing it with all of you.

Christmas - that magic blanket that wraps itself about us, that something so intangible that it is like a fragrance. It may weave a spell of nostalgia. Christmas may be a day of feasting, or of prayer, but always it will be a day of remembrance - a day in which we think of everything [and everyone] we have ever loved.     ...Augusta E. Rundel



If you are reading this on Christmas day, I want to tell you about an e-book deal on Angel Sister. It's 99 cents or less today and tomorrow, December 25th and 26th at your favorite e-book sites. As many of you already know, Angel Sister is a story dear to my heart because of the way my mother's memories are threaded throughout the story. Today with the way I'm missing Mom on this first Christmas without her, I'm glad to be able to share the story she inspired in my heart. It is available at most e-book sites, but always check before you download to be sure you're getting the sale price. Here are some links to try if you're interested.
Amazon
Christianbook
B & N

Wishing you joys and happiness and many blessings this Christmas Day.




Sunday, December 21, 2014

A Christmas Story Gift for You "A Letter to Santa"

                                  

I wrote this little story in 1997 for our local electric co-op magazine. A friend gave the clipping to me at church a couple of weeks ago, so I'm sharing it here as my Christmas present to you. Hope you enjoy Joey's letter to Santa.

Dear Santa Claus,
     It’s the day after Christmas and I guess you’re wondering why I’m writing you now seeing as how I didn’t write you no letter before Christmas. I figured I was too old for that stuff. My name is Joey and I’m eight. My little brothers Sam and Bennie write you. I told them it wouldn’t do no good. That your map just had rich kids’ houses on it.
     Me and my three brothers live with our mama in a house that the state gives us with low rent. It’s better than where we used to live even if we have to stuff papers in the crack around the front door in the wintertime and there’s a hole in the kitchen floor. Mama says they’ll say we done it, but the hole was there when we got here. Mama works when she can, but she says it’s hard to find a job that pays enough for daycare for Bennie and then one of us is always getting sick and she has to stay home and they fire her or something. She says maybe she shouldn’t have had so many kids, but she doesn’t know which one of us she could do without. Sometimes I think it might be me.
     But I don’t reckon you care anything about all that. I was just telling you why I quit writing you. Like I said, I used to write and ask for stuff, but about all I ever got was some book and maybe a game some other kid had done played with and lost some of the pieces. One year, I got lucky and got a basketball at the party the county gives for kids like me. It didn’t hold air long, but it was good for a little while.
Mama says we should be grateful for whatever we get, but sometimes she gets that “you’d better shut up and hide” look when somebody brings us something they’re just trying to get rid of. And sometimes when she thinks we’re all asleep, she cries. 
      So that’s why I don’t write you no more. It ain’t no fun hoping and then not getting nothing. That don’t mean I don’t want nothing. This year I wanted something so bad it like to ate a hole inside me. A dog. But Mama said dog food costs money and a dog has have shots and we were lucky to get to go to the doctor ourselves much less have to worry about paying for a dog doctor.
       But I couldn’t forget about wanting a dog. I didn’t care what kind. Any dog would do as long as it wagged its tail and liked me better than everybody else. You know, since it was my dog. I told Mama I needed a dog. She said maybe we could get a fish. My big brother, Billy, laughed and said yeah, maybe a dog fish.
       Now, Santa, you and me both know a fish ain’t no dog. I wanted a dog. One that pants and chews on bones and licks my face. I told Mama I’d pick up cans or shovel snow to buy his food and that I’d let my brothers pet him, but he’d be my dog. I kept pestering her, so finally she said maybe there’d be a miracle and I’d get my dog. But it would take a miracle.
       That’s when I went to wishing for a miracle. I still didn’t write you, Santa, cause you’ve let me down plenty before. But when I saw you on the fire engine in the Christmas parade, I did sort of throw a little wish your way just in case. I mean I wasn’t about to go sit on your lap or nothing, but some folks say you’re kind of magic so I thought it couldn’t hurt nothing. It was sort of like throwing a penny in a fountain. Mama says you can do that and make a wish. She gave us pennies last summer when we were at this park. I wished for my dog, but a penny don’t get you much. So I figured I’d better wish every way I could. Like when I blew out my birthday candles in September. And every time I saw a first star at night.
       On Christmas Eve, we had hot chocolate and popcorn like always and watched the Christmas tree lights flash. I checked for a box under the tree that had air holes or whined, but none did. Mama finally told me I might as well quit wishing for a dog. That no miracles were about to happen at our house.
       I tried to quit wishing. I really did. I went out on the front step and sat there in the cold and looked at Mr. Brown’s house all lit up across the street. Even his chimney has lights. Mama says it’s tacky, but if you squint your eyes, the reds and blues all smear together in a neat fuzzy glow. I figured you ought to be able to find Mr. Brown’s house for sure, Santa, and maybe if you did, a little something might spill out over here.
       Behind me I heard the Grinch carrying on in that silly show Sam and Bennie like. I don’t know why. Ain’t nothing about it true. I went out in the yard to see how our tree looked through the window and to see if I could make it glow like Mr. Brown’s house. I was just squinting up my eyes when the whole house went dark. Mr. Brown’s house was still glowing, but inside ours the Grinch quit talking and Bennie started crying because he’s afraid of the dark. I felt like crying too, not because I’m afraid of the dark. I ain’t afraid of nothing, but I missed the Christmas tree lights, Santa.
       Billy asked Mama if she’d paid the bill, and she said even the meanest Scrooge wouldn’t turn somebody’s lights off on Christmas Eve even if she hadn’t. So she gave Bennie a flashlight to stop him crying and went over to Mr. Brown’s to call the electric company. I tagged along just to keep from thinking about no dog and no Christmas tree lights.
       On the way back to our house, Mama said it would be a miracle if anybody came out to fix anything on Christmas Eve and we’d better just light some candles and make the best of it. Mama says that a lot. Just make the best of it.
       Mama lit every candle she could find and read us some Christmas stories and sang songs with us. I didn’t feel much like singing, but Mama’s eyes were all red and I figured if she started crying that might make me want to cry, what with no dog and no Christmas tree lights and all, and I’m way too big to cry. So I made the best of it and sang along.
       The first miracle happened about ten o’clock. Mama had just put Sam and Bennie to bed when this guy from the electric company knocked on the door. He said it was a mistake turning the lights off on us and that he’d need to go out back and climb up the pole to turn something back on.
       It was neat how he walked up the pole. Is that how you climb up chimneys, Santa? Anyway, he had the tree lights flashing again in nothing flat. When he climbed back down the pole and stepped on the ground, something yelped. He looked over at me and said that I’d better come get my puppy before it got lost.
       It was my puppy. I knew he was mine the minute I picked him up and he licked my nose. His tail beat against the side of my arm as he wriggled close against me. I tried to hide him from Mama because I wasn’t sure she’d see he was mine right off like I did. But I ain’t never been able to hide anything from Mama, so I talked fast. I told her how she said it would be a miracle if the electric guy came and he did and that maybe miracles came in bunches like she was always saying trouble did.
       She started shaking her head, but the electric guy was still here and he said his dog had just died sudden-like last month and he had all this leftover dog food, probably enough for about a year and he’d been trying to think of something to do with it and that his sister was a vet and she sometimes needed dogs to practice on. So what did my mother think?
       Mama looked at him, then at me holding the puppy and said that it must be another miracle for sure.
       And so, Santa, that’s how I got Jack, and I’m writing to say thanks just in case you might have dropped him out of your sleigh as you went over our house. Mama says we should be grateful and I am.

Your friend, Joey

P.S. Mama said to ask you if you ever dress up like an electric guy, but I told her the electric guy was way too skinny to really be you.

Thanks for reading. And don't forget. You still have time to enter my Christmas Giveaway. Drawing is on the last day of the year. Details here.

Hope you're having a great Christmas week! And please share my Christmas story with friends if you enjoyed it.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Light of the World

Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, "I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life." (John 8:12 KJV)



We had a Candlelight Service at my little church tonight. It's a service I love. Many of you have told me the same thing when you  entered my Christmas giveaway and shared some of your favorite things about Christmas. Candlelight services were mentioned time and again. (By the way, you can still enter if you haven't already. Just leave a comment here with a way to contact you or send me a message at annhgabhart(at)yahoo(dot)com. Prize details on my website here.

Most churches have this special service on Christmas Eve, but that doesn't work out for our church. However, I used to go to midnight Christmas Eve candlelight services with my mother at her church. They started at 11 p.m. and the service was especially moving. The service would conclude right at midnight and the congregation silently filed out of church, putting out their candles as they left while the church bells tolled the midnight hour. 

At our services we all go forward to light our small candles from the larger candle that represents Jesus as the Light of the world. That's where our pastor says we must get our light. Then our pastor has us hold the candles up in the air to show how, if we let our lights shine, the world gets brighter. Since our church is out in the country, when we turn off the electric lights, it's dark! That makes the candles more impressive. We always let the children have candles too although that means their moms and dads have to be very vigilant. But then, it's moms and dads' job to be vigilant and to help their children find the "light."  

In Matthew 5:16 Jesus says, "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven."

I've always thought it would be great to sing "This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine" to close out a Candlelight Service.

What do you like best about the Candlelight Services you have attended? Or if you've never been to a Candlelight Service, do you think you might like to? 

Monday, December 15, 2014

Do You Have Christmas in Your Heart?



He who has not Christmas in his heart will never find it under the tree. (Roy L. Smith)

It's been great reading the messages that have come in with the contest entries of all of your favorite things at Christmas and to see that you do have Christmas in your hearts. In fact, after I asked you to name your favorite thing about Christmas when you entered my Christmas Giveaway Contest, many of you said it's too hard to pick one thing. You have so much you love about Christmas, the celebration of the birth of Jesus. 

As you might expect, being with family has been often mentioned. We do love sharing this time of year with those we love.


One reader wrote: My favorite thing about the Christmas holiday is probably Christmas morning, being in our pjs and opening gifts with my hubby and kids. My husband always reads about Jesus being born from the Bible before we open gifts.


We also remember and miss those who are celebrating Christmas in heaven. I liked how this reader made memories of those gone on part of her family's Christmas while making new fun memories for the youngsters. 


She wrote: My favorite thing about Christmas is the ability to share the family stories with the younger ones so it feels like my grandparents are still around. We have had duct tape Christmases and hiding presents treasure hunts. Christmas is a time of remembering and making new memories.


Many readers talked about how much they enjoy the traditional Christmas music and some of the newer Christmas songs too like "Mary, Did You know?" That's a song that stirs my heart and one that was mentioned several times in the e-mail entries I've received so far. Music has a way of getting our Christmas spirit charged up and help us feel the spiritual joy of the season.

Here's what one reader said: How can you list only one favorite thing about Christmas? They shift every year, but right now It would have to be the tears flowing down my face as I listen to and/or sing the songs. Favorites are Mary Did You Know, O Holy night, and of course, Silent Night.


But there are other beautiful things to hear at Christmas time as this reader tells us. She loved the songs and more. 

 I love the SOUNDS of the season. Favorite Christmas carols, popular secular music, hearing the joy and laughter in children's voices and the friendly greetings that are more often spoken at this time of year~~all of these bring me joy.

The act of decorating and getting your house and yard and heart ready for Christmas was a favorite for some of you. You like going to special Christmas worship services. You even like stringing up Christmas lights and baking those cookies and cakes. So many ways to celebrate this special season and find Christmas in your heart. 


This reader listed some she loved. My favorite thing about Christmas is celebrating the birth of Jesus, getting together with family, and all the beautiful lights and decorations.


But then there are the children who light up our lives and make us so ready to keep the spirit of Christmas bright in our homes and churches. 


Here's one reader's short favorite thing message. She simply says, Looking through the eyes of a child at Christmas.


May we all have the childlike spirit we need in order to find Christmas in our heart. "Joy to the world! The Lord is come."

Do you have Christmas in your heart this year? 


(Remember, if you haven't already entered my Christmas giveaway, you can enter by leaving a comment here, but you have to leave a way to contact you. Details here. Drawing is December 31.)




Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Generations of Love



"It's true, Christmas can feel like a lot of work, particularly for mothers. But when you look back on all the Christmases in your life, you'll find you've created family traditions and lasting memories. Those memories, good and bad, are really what help to keep a family together over the long haul." (Caroline Kennedy)

Family - generations of love. Grandmother to mother to grandchild. As you might imagine, I'm missing Mom as the Christmas season approaches and remembering those family traditions and memories she helped create in my life. I'm sure many of you have experienced like feelings after you've lost loved ones. I am grateful for all the good memories I have and for the pictures that awake many of those memories. 

Somehow we never took a generation picture with my mother. Don't know how I missed out on that opportunity with the hundreds, even thousands of pictures I've taken over the years since my first grandchild was born. We weren't able to do the five generation pictures that are sometimes printed in our hometown paper here because my grandparents were gone before I had grandchildren, but we could have done a four generation one. Now that picture will have to be only in my heart. 

As those of you who read Sunday's post or get my newsletter know, I'm having a Christmas giveaway contest with the above figurine as the first prize along with one of my books. You have to win a book, you know. LOL. I like writing about families in my stories. I like exploring the relationships in my fictional families and I like sometimes letting those families reach out and pull people into their family circle that aren't actually related by anything but the love in their hearts. That is especially true in my Heart of Hollyhill series with the great bond between Jocie and Wes. (Scent of Lilacs is still a free download if any of you haven't grabbed it yet.) It's true in my Rosey Corner books too with how Lorena finds a forever place in the Merritt family. In the first Rosey Corner book, Angel Sister, generations play an important part in the storyline. 

All that to explain that's why I picked this particular prize - to celebrate families. You can read all the details of the contest on my website here. Entering is easy. An e-mail or a comment here as long as you be sure to leave a way to contact you. For fun, you can tell me something you especially like about Christmas. I've been reading your messages already. Not got them all read yet since I had some of those grandkids visiting this weekend and have been playing catch-up ever since. But here's one of the messages from Jan that seems to sum it all up. 

"My favorite thing about Christmas is the family catching up and being together during this wonderful season. The memories that are made and the tales that are told. The window dressing of Christmas trees and lights and the beautiful music just makes it more fun but it's all about the miracle of God sending his son to earth for our sins."

Family. Memories. Stories. Beautiful lights and music to celebrate the greatest gift - the birth of Jesus.  Yes, Jan, that is Christmas. 

Thanks for reading. 



Monday, December 8, 2014

Christmas Magic and a Christmas Giveaway for You


A Small Act of Grandparent Bravery

I got extraordinarily brave Saturday. I was keeping three of my grandkids including my twin grandsons who at the age of six must drink high energy water every morning when they pop out of bed. That energy doesn't run out until about fifty "go to sleep" orders have been issued well after dark. That wasn't the brave part. The brave part was that I took them to our local town's Christmas parade. It helped that my other son and his family was there to help me keep an eye on the kids.

A Small Town Parade
 
I was a bit concerned disappointment awaited in the wings when, before we left home, one of the boys started talking about how we might be on television. Not until he mentioned seeing the big balloons did I realize he was thinking we were going to be on the sidelines of a parade like the Macy's parade he'd watched on Thanksgiving. Their cousin, my older grandson, and I tried to ratchet down their expectations without totally stealing their excitement. 

We found our viewing spot in front of one of the churches, and then had to wait for the parade. And wait. And wait. Waiting is not what these two kids do best! Plus, it was cold. Before we spotted the police cars' flashing lights or heard the marching band's drums, the boys were ready to give up on the parade ever coming and call it a night. But I persevered. I'm good at that. Maybe eventually they will be too. 
 
Do we see Santa?

Finally, the police cars came, sirens sounding to lead the parade. The kids spotted Grinch on one of the floats and the Nativity scene on another. Santa finally showed up too, riding on a firetruck. My daughter-in-law took this picture as the boys were peering ahead to catch sight of Santa. Kids are such fun at Christmas time. And even better, when we took them to church Sunday morning and our pastor asked the kids why we celebrated Christmas, one of the boys was eagerly ready with the answer, "to celebrate Jesus being born."  

A New Christmas Contest


Christmas is a great time for thinking about giving and so time for me to have a Christmas Giveaway Contest. If you get my newsletter, you may have already read all about it and entered. I sent out the newsletter Friday to share that my book, Christmas at Harmony Hill, was a free download for twenty-four hours. The free is gone, but the e-book price is reduced for a while longer if you would like to check it out at your e-book provider. Christianbook.com also has the hardback copies at an even cheaper price.
Amazon Kindle
Nook Books 

Christianbook.com

If you'd like to get my newsletter (more book freebies and contests are on the horizon) and aren't signed up, just let me know or sign up here. 

The newsletter also let readers know about my Christmas giveaway. Since many of my books deal with family relationships, I picked the lovely three generation figurine above for first prize. Plus the winner will get his or her choice of one of my autographed books. Second prize is the Peanuts perpetual calendar with smiles waiting on every day and also the choice of one of my books. To enter, you can leave a comment here with a way to contact you via e-mail or Facebook (without this important information I can't find you should you be a winner) or send me an e-mail (annhgabhart at yahoo dot com) and I'll throw your name in my giveaway hat. Any e-mail will do, but for fun, you can tell me your favorite thing about the Christmas season. Deadline for entries is midnight EST December 31. You must be 18 to enter and have a USA or Canadian mailing address. Next time, I'll come up with something not so hard to mail to include you international friends.

Last Week's Winner of the Christmas Stories

Carolann won last week's giveaway - the Christmas stories. Rose McCauley's Christmas Grace, and my Christmas at Harmony Hill. Thanks to all of you for your comments. It's always fun hearing what you have to say.  

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Chance to Win a Couple of Christmas Books


Do you like Christmas stories? 

Rose Allen McCauley visited my blog on Sunday and we're giving a free download of her new book to someone who comments on her guest post or tonight's post. I'll draw for the winner Sunday, and so far the odds are very good. Along with Rose's book, you can win a copy of my Christmas Shaker book, Christmas at Harmony Hill. (An autographed print copy.) If you don't have an e-reader, Rose says her book will soon be available in print as well. So answer one of the questions on the post tonight and join in the giveaway fun.

The Greatest Christmas Story

The greatest Christmas story is straight from the Bible in Luke and Matthew. Luke tells about the angels giving the Good News to the shepherds keeping watch over their flocks about the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes in a manger and Matthew has the story of the visit of the Wise Men. In spite of every church Christmas pageant you've ever seen, the Bible doesn't say how many wise men came to visit Jesus, only that they brought three gifts. But three works pretty well when you're assigning parts for those Christmas plays at church. 

Did you ever have a part in a Christmas play at your church?

Maybe you were a shepherd or a wise man or an angel in a Christmas play. Could be you were picked to be Mary or Joseph or even one of the sheep or other animals. I love Christmas pageants. I don't think I was ever an actor in one, but I've helped with a lot of them with my kids and the other kids in the church. 

I want the kids to tell the old, old story every year wearing those fuzzy, too long wise men and shepherd robes. I want to see the angels draped in white sheets with tinsel halos and cardboard wings that always end up a little crooked before the great announcement is finished. At our church gathering tonight, we were saying how little girls were always the angels. Yet in the Bible any time an angel is actually named, it's a man's name and often described as men, like the men Abraham fed in the Old Testament before they told him he would have a child in the next year and Sarah, eavesdropping, laughed. In spite of all that, we decided we couldn't imagine little boys doing the angels' parts in our Christmas pageants. They much prefer the shepherd role or bringing the gifts. 

What's your favorite carol?

My husband says all the carols are hard to sing and I guess he's right. He's the singer in the family. I just try to make a joyful noise and maybe that's why I like "Joy to the World." It probably is the easiest carol to sing. You can belt that one out pretty good.  But I like them all. They tell the Christmas story in song. 

I hope you get the privilege of having the Christmas story told to you by a cast of children. I've seen many and I have never been disappointed in the story they tell. 

Remember, leave a comment to have a chance to win Rose's download and a paper copy of my book. And make sure to include a way to contact you. 

As always, thanks for reading.